OMAHA, Neb. -- The word meeting does not do justice to the annual
shareholders' gathering: It really is a three-day circus of old friends reuniting, eating lots of red meat (this is Omaha, mind you), spending lots of money, and of course, creating a giant tribute to Hizzonah,
As a first-timer with one companion, you do feel a little on the outside because there are lots of people in large groups who clearly have been here before and are enjoying the heck out of themselves. Given the stock price, they're probably not enjoying themselves as much as in former years, but this was clearly a group you would not feel sorry for as far as net worth is concerned. Before the meeting, I bought my wife a Tenth Anniversary yellow diamond ring at Buffett subsidiary,
, the cost of which frankly still hurts, even with the shareholder discount.
(I also wonder about that discount, since my grandfather told me his first job in his father's store was walking up to each garment and marking it up 30%, while his brother followed close behind with a red marker boldly slashing 20% off the price for the advertised "sale" -- which, if you've done your math, actually nets out to a price increase.)
But like a good shareholder, I will report that service and selection were excellent, and I went back and forth via email for several months on what became my final purchase with the very patient Kimberly at
. (She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org -- to do my best Buffett plug.)
Remember, the Berkshire logo is a golden goose, its chairman is one of the world's best salesmen (in addition to his many other talents, to which ukulele playing and singing were apparently added this year) and much of its shareholder base is absolutely devoted to whatever Buffett is promoting -- as if he were a well-known cult leader and they his followers.
I went to
and had the T-bone steak (B+ steak, but dreadful wine list). I did not go to the baseball game where he throws out the first pitch. But I did see him when he came back to the hotel afterward. I am pleased to report as a shareholder interested in his longevity that he looked pretty good in pinstripes, a thought obviously shared by the gaggle of women surrounding him, looking for autographs and pictures.
Nebraska Furniture Mart
an amazing place: Imagine five
-sized buildings selling nearly every retail good that is not edible. I did not go to the Buffett dentist, get my hair cut at Buffett's barber or build a shrine and hold a candlelight vigil outside his house, although I'd bet I could have rounded up a few dozen shareholders to join me if I'd sounded serious about it.
To enjoy the actual meeting, you have to have a strategy: Send someone ahead to the meeting at 7 a.m. when the doors open, and save seats in order to save your behind an additional two and a half hours in a convention chair. (These people are serious; the place was 75% full by 7:30.) Locate your party via cell phone and waving. Also, send someone for food when the "formal meeting" begins, and when the lines are low.
The show began with a fairly funny and kitschy video about various Berkshire-related businesses and pet peeves, including Buffett singing the tune of
old ad song, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" with the words, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Share of Berkshire Hathaway the
down but We Don't Frown," etc. Also featured were Buffett, pal
and Omaha compatriot Walter Scott, of
, playing "Who Wants to Be a Zillionaire" with
But let's be honest: As charming, incredibly bright, self-deprecating and erudite as Buffett is, and as dry and witty as Berkshire Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger is, six hours is a very long time to listen to anyone -- or even two.
The meeting is entirely democratic, which means anyone can stand for two hours in line to reach one of the microphones and ask a question. The result: 70% God Bless You Messrs. Buffett and Munger for making me wealthier, and here is my generally not terribly pertinent question.
Fortunately, Buffett does a nice job of turning even the silliest of questions into an answer about something that he wants to say, whether it has anything to do with the question or not. I would also like to put in a plug here for Munger, who frankly was much more animated and funny than I was led to believe. To wit, Buffett has, in the past, jokingly put a cardboard cutout of Munger in the chair next to him or brought out a mirror to check if Charlie is still breathing. I was told by Buffett cognoscenti that he was a relative ball of fire this year.
As originally published, this story contained an error. Please see
Corrections and Clarifications.
Jeffrey Bronchick is chief investment officer at Reed Conner & Birdwell, a Los Angeles-based money management firm with $1.2 billion of assets under management for institutions and taxable individuals. Bronchick also manages the RCB Small Cap Fund. At time of publication, RCB was long Berkshire Hathaway, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Bronchick appreciates your feedback at